Monday, January 31, 2022

The Lost Bank of New York Building -- 48 Wall Street at William

from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1783 the war with Britain was over, but financial conditions for the fledgling United States were nearly chaotic.  Continental currency, which had become worthless, ceased to circulate.  While the Government authorized paper currency, states issued bills of their own.  

The need for standards and organization was crucial.  An editorial appeared in the New-York Packet on February 12, 1784 proposing the establishment of the Bank of the State of New York, and laying out the advantages of such an institution.  With a slightly different name, the Bank of New York would be headed by a governor and six directors, who served without compensation until the bank was stable enough to pay its first dividend.

The constitution of the Bank of New York was written in March 1784 by Alexander Hamilton.  The institution's first home was in the magnificent William Walton mansion on St. George's Square (later Franklin Square).  The directors rented the house until 1787, when the bank moved to 11 Hanover Square.  By 1796 it required a larger facility, and in November the directors purchased the house of William Constable at the corner of Wall and William Streets.

The 1797 building sat within an elegant residential neighborhood.  To the rear, on William Street, can be seen a portion of the Phillips mansion, and to the right is General John Lamb's residence.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

The cornerstone of the new building was laid on June 22, 1796 and the bank opened in its new home the following year, in April.  For six decades the palatial structure served the bank.  But, according to bank historian Henry Williams Domett in 1884, "The need of better accommodation for the business of the bank had long been felt, and in 1856 a committee had been appointed to procure plans for a new building."

The architectural firm of Vaux and Withers was commissioned to replace the old structure with a modern building.  The bank temporarily moved to rented space at William Street and Exchange Place, and the old building demolished.  The cornerstone was laid on September 10, 1856 and construction was completed in March 1858 at a cost of $173,400--more than $5.6 million in today's money.

Henry Williams Domett wrote:

The structure was described at the time as 'built in the Italian style, of Little Falls brown stone and Philadelphia brick.  The banking-room is fifty-eight feet long, thirty-five feet wide, and twenty-six feet high, occupying two stories in the central and rear part of the building.  The ceiling and walls, and the whole fitting-up of the interior compare favorably with the elegance of the exterior, and the room is lighted on the east side, where it adjoins the present American Exchange Bank, by glazed panels in the ceiling.

The original Vaux & Withers structure was four stories tall.  image from Martha J. Lamb's Wall Street in History, 1883 (copyright expired)

The New York Times gave the building a mixed review.  An article on March 26, 1858 said, "The style shows great invention latent in the architect, and though it is most elaborately ugly in its details, the general effect is by no means unpleasant."  As unhappy as the critic was of the exterior, he was impressed with the interior.  He called the banking room "a beautiful apartment...lined with Caen stone, and finished with dark oak," and said, "The best taste has been exhibited throughout in the fittings up and in the smaller offices."  The article noted that the marble cornerstone from the 1798 building was inserted into one wall.

The Bank of New York was in its new home only three years before civil war broke out in the South.  On April 28, 1861, just two weeks after the first shot was fired upon Fort Sumter, the bank's president, A. P. Halsey approved a loan of $50,000 to the United States Government "for equipping volunteers."  The amount would top $1.5 million today.

In the summer of 1863 an Irish cleaning woman, Honora Barry, visited the offices of three separate brokers on Chatham Street.  She had $300 in bank notes--more than $6,300 today--and she most likely thought that by dividing it into smaller amounts  she would draw less attention.  She was wrong.  On August 5, The New York Times reported that she had been arrested "on a charge of stealing a package of bank bills" from the Bank of New York.  The article said, "The woman was employed in taking care of the premises at No. 48 Wall-street, and states that she found the money in the cellar."

The Bank of New York continued to grow, and in 1879 the firm of Vaux & Radford was called in to enlarge it.  The renovations, which cost the equivalent of $1.5 million today, resulted in two extra floors, one in the form of a fashionable mansard crowned with lacy iron cresting.  A safe deposit vault was installed in the basement, the outer door of which weighed three tons.

from A History of the Bank of New York, 1784-1884, by Henry Williams Domett, 1884 (copyright expired)

Extra space in the upper floors was leased as office space.  Among the residents in 1885 were attorney George B. Newell, and architect Thomas Stent.

It appeared in the summer of 1908 that the vintage building was doomed.  On August 1 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Clinton & Russell had been commissioned to design "a high office building to be at least twenty stories" on the site.  But the idea stalled and, instead, in July 1913 architects Marc Eidlitz & Son made "general alterations."

from Old Buildings of New York City, 1907 (copyright expired)

Nine years later, on June 20, 1922, The New York Times reported on the merger of the Bank of New York and the New York Life Insurance & Trust Company, "two of the oldest financial institutions of the United States."  The article noted that "for the immediate future," the business of the two institutions would be conducted from their present locations.

The "immediate future" was short lived, at least for the venerable Bank of New York building.  In November 1922 the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell was hired to design a replacement skyscraper for the Bank of New York and Trust Company on the site.   But, as had been the case in 1908, the firm would be disappointed.  The commission was given, instead, to architect Benjamin Wistar Morris.  The new 32-story bank building was completed in 1929.

Benjamin Wistar Morris's office released this rendering in 1928. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Saturday, January 29, 2022

The Rev. Samuel Osgood House - 154 West 11th Street

In 1845 James Boorman erected two nearly identical three-story houses on West 11th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Because it was slightly wider, 86 West 11th Street (later renumbered 154) received a more impressive Greek Revival doorway, with narrow sidelights and a transom.

The house became home to Rev. Samuel Osgood and his family.  Born in Massachusetts in 1812, Rev. Osgood had been installed as the rector of the Unitarian Church of the Messiah on Broadway in 1849.  He and his wife, the former Ellen Haswell Murdock, had two daughters, Agnes Haswell and Bertha Stevens Osgood.  A third, Mabel Gray, would come along in 1859.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

In July 1860 a couple knocked on the Osgood door asking to be married.  Ellen showed them into the parlor where Osgood performed the ceremony.  The New York Times printed a one-line announcement, "In this City, on Saturday, July 7, by Rev. Samuel Osgood, D. D., Edwin Booth to Mary, daughter of Charles Devlin, all of Philadelphia."  

The couple had possibly been unable to find a minister willing to marry them in a church ceremony.  Most clergymen at the time refused to be involved with members of the theater.  Edwin Booth was almost assuredly recognized by face or name by Rev. Osgood.  He was one of the most famous actors of his day.  Witnessing the ceremony was the groom's brother, John Wilkes Booth.

As the country became embroiled in what Northerners called the War of the Rebellion, both Rev. Osgood and Ellen threw themselves into relief work.  Ellen was instrumental in organizing the church women into the Nightingale Association.  Its object was "to furnish nurses, supply lint and bandages, and whatever may be needful for the comfort of the sick and wounded in the present contest."  On April 24, 1861 the New-York Daily Tribune reported, "the following articles were suggested as being especially useful: woolen socks, China medicine cups, linen towels, scissors, sponges, small cans of tea, small paper packages of tobacco, white-wine vinegar, and preserved fruits in cans."  Donations of these items, said the article, could be sent to "Mrs. Sam. Osgood, No. 154 West Eleventh-street."

Rev. Osgood was appointed to a committee of the New-England Soldiers' Relief Association.  On July 9, 1862 The New York Times reported, "The object of the Association was to provide property attention to the New-England sick and wounded soldiers as they pushed through New-York from the seat of war to their homes."  By now, said the article, the relief was not limited to only New England soldiers, but to all Union troops.  A hospital for soldiers was established, and food and money were provided for those less injured.  "If needed, as it invariably is, he is furnished with a shirt, boots, pants, in fact, any article of clothing he may be in need of, free of charge," said the article.

With the war over, the Church of the Messiah turned its attention to relocating.  On October 3, 1866 Rev. Osgood laid "with appropriate ceremonies," the cornerstone of its new building at 34th Street and Park Avenue.  Unknown to the congregation, and possibly even to himself, Osgood's ministry with the Church of the Messiah was drawing to a close.

In May 1868 he took what today would be called a year-long sabbatical.  The West 11th Street house was closed and the family sailed to Europe.  On December 22 The Southport Chronicle announced, "Dr. Osgood arrived from Europe in the Ville de Paris on Tuesday, the 14th, after seven months absence, and will not return to the pulpit at present, but will complete his year of retirement in literary pursuits."

Osgood was grappling with an internal conflict regarding his adherence to the Unitarian doctrines.  He resolved it by switching to the Episcopal faith.  He quickly became esteemed within that group of clergy.  On June 1, 1874, for instance, the Church Conference of Episcopal clergymen was held in the Church of the Incarnation on Madison Avenue and 35th Street.  The New York Herald reported, "Rev. Samuel Osgood presided."

Samuel Osgood was not one-dimensional.  He was a well-educated historian and author.  On May 7, 1873, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "A crowded meeting was held last night of the New York Historical Society at their library, for the purpose of hearing a paper read by the Rev. Samuel Osgood, D. D., on 'The Surprises of History.'  The discourse treated principally of the triumphs of peace and the great progress of education all over the world."  He also sat on the Executive Committee of the Officers of the Prison Association of New York.

In 1876 Osgood led the drive to create a commemorative vase to be presented to poet and editor William Cullen Bryant on his 80th birthday.  The Grecian-style sterling silver vase was fabricated by Tiffany & Co.  Then, three years later, Osgood was surprised to receive an exact copy (albeit in silver-plate).  A letter from Tiffany & Co. dated May 28, 1879 read:

Dear Dr. Osgood: 
As a souvenir of the Bryant vase, a most important work originated by you in recognition of the virtues and services of one of the most eminent Americans of this century, we beg your acceptance of a fac-simile electro-type which has just been completed for you.
Please let us know where you wish it to be delivered and much oblige,
                                        Very faithfully yours, 
                                        Tiffany & Co.

Before accepting the tribute, Osgood contacted William Cullen Bryant.  "I hesitated until Mr. Bryant himself cordially assured me that he wished me to have this copy," he said in his reply.  The magnificent accolade sat in a place of honor in the West 11th Street house.

The original Bryant vase is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art today.

Less than a year later, on April 14, 1880, Samuel Osgood died in 154 West 11th Street at the age of 68.  His funeral was held in St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue on April 19, conducted by Bishop Henry C. Potter.  The church was filled with some of the best-known clergymen of the city and from as far away as Georgia.  Eminent New Yorkers like Frederick de Peyster, Joseph H. Choate and Henry Dexter were among the mourners.

The subsequent owner, who added heavy cornices to the doorway and windows, took in boarders.  Living here in 1886 were Charles M. Dugay, a clerk; painter Charles S. Ethier; and Oliver B. Stout, who was a machinist.  

In 1923 New Zealand-born industrial designer Joseph Claude Sinel arrived in New York.  A journalist for The American Printer wrote on November 5, 1924, "After six months with Calkins & Holden he became a free lance, and now has a studio at 154 West Eleventh Street, New York."

Sinel was far-reaching in his work.  He later said he designed anything from "ads to andirons and automobiles, from beer bottles to book covers, from hammers to hearing aids, from labels and letterheads to packages and pickle jars, from textiles and telephone books to toasters, typewriters and trucks."  In 1936 he relocated to San Francisco.

A Sinel-designed Art Deco conference room table and chairs. (original source unknown)

By then the house was being operated as unofficial apartments.  In May 1947 Lawrence and Rosalind Kaplan moved in.  Rosaline described their four rooms the following year saying "it is very charming, with a great deal of light, we have all the accessories for our culture and the culture of our children.  We have an excellent music library and several hundred books on almost every available subject."

The 20-foot house was renovated in 1955, returning it to a single-family house.  It was purchased in 2005 by Brigitte Kleine, president of fashion company Tory Burch, and Robert C. Micheletto for $3.2 million.  The New York Times described it as having "three bedrooms and two and a half baths over 2,400 square feet, along with a small backyard garden."  They sold it in September 2018 for $7.6 million.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Friday, January 28, 2022

German Nurses, Scandal, John Steinbeck and Art -- 177 East 78th Street

East 78th Street was opened in 1861, the year that war broke out in the South.  With much of New York City's working class off fighting, construction in Manhattan ground to a near halt.  But shortly after peace was declared in 1865, a flurry of building erupted, much of it on the developing Upper East Side.

In 1871 hardware merchant Augustus T. Chur moved his family into the recently completed brick house at 177 East 78th Street, between Third and Lexington Avenues.   One of a row of identical, 18-foot-wide homes, it sat upon a brownstone English basement.  Above the high stone stoop, the parlor level featured full-length windows that were almost assuredly fronted by a cast iron balcony.

The Chur family remained until about 1875, when Mary Sheehan purchased the house.  Her husband, John, had died and her adult sons, James and Philp, and daughter Margaret, lived with her.  But it was not a pacific cohabitation.   While James worked as a clerk in The Merchants' National Bank, Philip was a rake and slacker.

And on Christmas Day, 1877 Mary had reached the end of her patience.  The New York Times began an article saying, "A case of domestic infelicity--one in which the unfilial conduct of an undutiful son was the sole cause--was disclosed yesterday in the Fifty-seventh-Street Police Court."  Calling Mary "a well-to-do widow, being the owner of considerable property," the journalist said she complained that James "had not done a day's work in 12 years."  She went on to call him a habitual drunkard who came home "at all hours in the morning."  The article details his out-of-control behavior:

Often, when he came home after a night's carousal, if everything did not suit his fancy, or if his meals were not ready, he would vary the monotony of the scene by smashing the furniture in the house, demolishing tables, chairs, and, in fact, everything he could lay his hands on.

After Justice Wendell heard Mary's story, he asked Philip to explain himself.  He said his mother "neglected him and did not treat him as she should."  Wendell fined him $10 and "$300 bail to keep the peace" (about $7,650 today).  In lieu of bail Philip would spent three months on Blackwell's Island.  

And as it turned out, James F. Sheehan was not a ideal son, either.  As Mary came out of the basement door on February 9, 1883, she found a young man ascending the stoop.   He handed her papers notifying her that she was a c0-defendant in an action filed against James by the bank.   Over the course of about a year, he had been embezzling funds and Mary was accused of having received at least part of the money.

In court Mary testified that she was unaware that any money given her by her son "had been obtained by any fraudulent means whatsoever."    James's testimony could have been more forceful.  He said, "I never informed her, and I believe she was not aware" that the money was stolen.  In the end, James was sent to prison and Mary was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Mary lived on in the house through 1895, taking in a boarder, Dr. Charles L. Weiher, by 1893.  The house went through a quick succession of owners after Mary sold it to Edward and Ann Sturges in 1896.  They sold it two years later to George M. Harpel, who sold it to Lowenfeld & Prager the in 1902.  The real estate firm purchased 175 East 78th Street at the same time.  Before long the two houses were purchased by C. S. Falker, who now owned seven houses on the block.

Just before selling his properties in January 1911, The New York Times reported "A restriction for private residences has recently been put on several houses in East Seventy-eight Street."  The restrictive covenant in the deeds, which prohibited the properties from being used as multi-family homes, was no doubt an effort to preserve the property values of his other holdings.

The restriction did not prohibit 177 East 78th Street from being operated as a boarding house, however, and it filled with artists.  Among them were Rudolph Dirks, a member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors; and German-born Henri de Mance, who lived and worked in the house for at least eight years.

Henri de Mance exhibited this portrait at The Society of Independent Artists exhibition in 1917 while living here.  The Society of Independent Artists catalog 1917 (copyright expired)

By 1918 both houses were owned by John R. and Phyllis A. MacArthur.  They lived in 177 and leased 175.   MacArthur was described by The Evening World as the "millionaire treasurer of the MacArthur Bros of the largest general contracting firms in the world."  Living with the couple was their adult adopted son, Alexander, a self-described "sketch artist."

The MacArthur summer home was at Cedar Grove, New Jersey.  On September 17, 1921 a 19-year old student, Louise Bradshaw, was attacked by a man who jumped from the underbrush, threatened her with a knife, and assaulted her.   Less than a month later, on October 10, Helen O'Neill, a mother of five, was attacked in the identical fashion.  After a two-month investigation, police knocked on the door of 177 East 78th Street on December 5 and served Alexander with an arrest warrant.  He was taken to Newark to appear in a lineup.

The Evening World reported that the 29-year-old said, "This is a terrible mistake.  My name is in the Social Register.  I couldn't possibly do such a thing."   The New York Times added, "On the way down the stairs the prisoner was reported to have requested the detectives not to inform the servants in the house that he was under arrest 'until I find out what this is all about.'"

A few days before his arrest, Mrs. John Monroe had been attacked at Cedar Grove.  One of her two dogs bit the attacker and he ran away.  Her description of the attempted assailant closely matched MacArthur.  Police noticed that his left hand was bandaged.  He excused that saying it was a small pimple that he had picked which became infected and had to be lanced.  Both Louise Bradshaw and Helen O'Neill positively identified him in a lineup.

Surprisingly, both women changed their minds about being positive about MacArthur being their attacker, and he was cleared of charges.  But a year, later, on October 24, 1922, he was arrested again, this time in Central Park.  According to 27-year old Paul Dischleit, a baker, he had been playing with some kittens in the park when Alexander MacArthur "dropped on a bench beside him."  After talking for a while, MacArthur offered Dischleit a cigarette and suggested a walk.  When they reached Indian Cave, according to Dischleit, MacArthur acted "in an improper manner."  He found a policeman who arrested MacArthur.  He was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to three months in the workhouse.

The MacArthurs were undoubtedly mortified when Alexander was arrested, yet again, on June 6, 1923 and extradited to New Jersey.  Two more women now accused him of assault at Cedar Grove.

Despite the messy publicity, the MacArthurs seem to have kept up social appearances.  On April 15, 1924 the New York Evening Post reported, "Mrs. John R. MacArthur of 177 East Seventy-eighth street is giving a reception this afternoon for the Honorable Charles Barret, the French Consul General in the United States...There will be music during the afternoon and dancing for the young people."

In 1931 the German Graduate Nurses Society leased the two houses.  The New York Evening Post reported, "After alterations the nurses' society...will use the premises for clubroom purposes."  Although they were not joined internally, it was most likely at this time that the stoops were removed and the entrances lowers to the basement level.

The two properties were purchased in September 1946 by author John Steinbeck and his wife, Gwyn.  The couple moved into 175 and rented 177.  According to Bloom's BioCritiques's 2003 biography John Steinbeck, "They bought the two houses because the residences shared a garden, and Steinbeck wanted to control this space as well as control who rented the place next to them."  The novelist worked from the basement--now first floor--of 175 East 78th Street until the couple moved to California in 1948.

Although they shared the same owners for decades, the two identical houses were never combined.

In the mid-1990's the lower portion of 177 East 78th Street was home to the Gerald Peters Gallery, which specialized in American Modernism.  A renovation completed in 2012 returned the house with its astounding history to a single-family dwelling.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Henry Sutliff House - 209 West 16th Street

photo by Beyond My Ken

Completed around 1845, the house at 127 West 16th Street (renumbered 209 in 1868), was an early example of Italianate architecture with its full-height third floor and pressed metal cornice.  But the architect did not totally dismiss the still popular Greek Revival style.  Although the property was a mere 17-feet in width, he managed to squeeze narrow sidelights on either side of the door and top it with a transom, both nods to the Greek Revival style.  Also melding Italianate with Greek Revival were the stoop and areaway railings, which exhibited design elements of both.

The house became home to Henry Sutcliff, a carpenter, and his family.  As was often the case with houses of the period, a secondary building sat in the rear yard.  Sutcliff ran his carpentry business from the shop and another carpenter, presumably an employee, William G. Diehl, lived above it.  The family had one boarder in the main house, Ruth A. Whitford, a widow.

Although the Sutliffs remained in the house through 1854, by then Henry had given his carpentry shop over to a bakery.  Bakers Cornelius Decklyn and John Rowe both lived in the second floor of that building.  Living in the main house with the Sutliffs that year was the Warren family.  John H. Warren listed his profession simply as "manufacturer." He may have been in the hat making business, since his son, also named John, was a hat presser.

Following the Sutliffs, the house became home to another carpenter, William Leaycraft.  He seems to have closed the shop in the rear building and it was occupied by two widows, Mary Brown, a "tailoress," and Mary Conway, in 1860.  Boarding with the Leaycrafts in the main house that year was Ellert Wulfhoop, who was in the milk business.

Around 1874 Michael McMullen, a roofer, purchased 209 West 16th Street.  Two dressmakers, Sophia Loftus and Meta Hartman, rented rooms from the family in 1876, possibly in the rear building.   Another boarder, James Gildreth, appeared in newspapers for a potentially embarrassing situation that year.

On December 13 he visited the house of Ellen Rosenbury on Atlantic Street in Brooklyn.  When he left, he discovered he was missing $60 in cash--around $1,500 in today's money.  Very often women of ill repute managed to get away with theft, since their victims wanted to avoid scandal and notoriety.  The amount was apparently too much for Gildreth to ignore and he filed a complaint.  Two days later The New York Times reported she had been arrested for stealing the money "while in his company."  Happily for Gildreth, the money was recovered.

Michael McMullen sold the house on February 27, 1886 to James and Catherine Maher Gregg for $10,000--around $285,000 today.  It was almost assuredly the Greggs who updated the stoop newels and added cast metal cornices to the windows.

Gregg was a "fitter," or gas pipe plumber.  As had been the case with his predecessors, the Greggs took in boarders.   The first of them were Jacob J. Knox and Cerarine Thibaud, yet another dressmaker.

In March 1887 Cerarine placed an advertisement in The New York Times that read, "Dressmaker--French: Arrived few months from Paris; wishes some customers at home; stylish and elegant fitting and draping.  Call at 209 West 16th st."

Julia Sorenson lived here with her mother and sister in 1896.  She got a job as a governess at the upscale resort community of Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island that summer, earning the equivalent of $795 per month today.  She left New York on June 11 and wrote frequently to her mother and sister.  As the summer drew to an end, she wrote that "she had been out in the evening once or twice with a young man," according to The Press, "whose name she did not mention, but she would not go out with him again, as she was afraid of him."

With the summer social season ended, on September 14 Julia left her employers' cottage to return home.  She was paid in cash as she said good-bye.  Her mother expected her that night, but she never arrived.  And then, the following day, a special report to The Press announced, "Miss Julia Sorrenson, of No. 209 West Sixteenth street, New York, was the woman washed off a rock here and drowned yesterday."  The article noted that she had been paid that morning and said, "The money is missing, and this fact had led many to express a suspicion that her death may not have been purely accidental."

Following her husband's death, Catherine Gregg was prompted to seek a profession.  Almost unbelievably she graduated as a nurse from the Brooklyn Disciplinary Training School in 1909 at the age of 70.  In 1912 she was hired at the Bureau of Preventative Diseases and six years later the Times Union said, "She resides at 209 West Sixteenth street, Manhattan.  In 1917...her salary of $1,809 was boosted to $1,920."  With her raise she was earning the equivalent of $38,800 per year by today's terms.

The Irish-born Catherine Maher Gregg died in the house on August 5, 1921 at the age of 83.  Her funeral mass was held in the Church of St. Francis Xavier nearby at 39 West 15th Street.

Beyond the security door, the sidelights and transom of the door are visible.  photo by Beyond My Ken

Possibly because of its narrow proportions, 209 West 16th Street had never been converted to apartments.  Other than a coat of paint, it looks much as it did when the Greggs cautiously updated it in the 1880's. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Thomas J. Lipton Building - 149-151 Franklin Street


On March 24, 1888 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that architect Charles C. Haight was working on plans for a "brick and stone warehouse" for John E. Parsons at 149 and 151 Franklin Street.  The block, between Varick and Hudson Streets, had been a neighborhood of two-and-a-half story Federal style houses in the 1830's.  But times had changed.

The district which a century later would be known as Tribeca had begun transforming shortly after the end of the Civil War.  Modern loft buildings replaced vintage houses.  
Parsons, who was a well-known attorney--one of the founders and president of the New York Law Institute--joined the trend.

The 58-foot-wide, six-story Romanesque Revival style structure was completed in 1889.  Haight's design, arranged in four vertical sections, forewent the chunky, undressed blocks and vast arches expected in the style.  Instead, crisp-sided brick piers and rectangular openings resulted in a regimented, geometric pattern.  Romanesque appeared in the arched opening, with its delicate foliate spandrel and entablature carvings, and in the intricate designs of the cast spandrels between floors.

The completed building became home to Fishel & Levy, wholesale liquor merchants.  Operated by Joseph M. Fishel and brothers Morris and Adolph Levy, the firm would remain until around 1908.  

It was joined in the building at the turn of the century by the International Arithmachine Co., which manufactured and sold early adding machines.  An advertisement on April 2, 1900 read:

Agent, quick at figures, to sell the smallest, fastest, cheapest practical computing machine; adds, substracts, multiplies, &c.  Address International Arithmachine Co., 149,151 Franklin st.

At the time of that advertisement, Sir Thomas J. Lipton's tea business operated from The Lipton Building, steps away at the corner of Franklin and Hudson Streets.  But disaster struck in February 1905 when that building was destroyed by fire.  On March 5, the New-York Tribune reported that John E. Parsons had leased 149-151 Franklin to Lipton.

Thomas Lipton had worked in his parents' grocery store in Glasgow, Scotland as a teen.  The enterprising boy saw potential in providing affordable tea to the middle classes.  He was the first to sell tea in tea bags, and to print brewing instructions on the bags.

By now he was a multi-millionaire, had been knighted by Edward VII, and his tea was a household name internationally.  

The urgency to move into 149-151 Franklin Street was such that corners were cut.  The New York Times explained, "When the building was leased by the Lipton Company from Mr. Parsons the owner was to have forty days in which to make repairs.  The tea company was in a hurry to get into the building, and as it was vacant, the landlord permitted it."  Sir Thomas Lipton would rue the decision four years later.

Perhaps the greatest threat to tea is water.  In 1912 a water tank overflowed, ruining a significant amount of product.  Sir Thomas Lipton sued John E. Parsons for damages.  But because he had released Parsons from his obligation to repair any defects, the verdict was disappointing.  The jury in State Supreme Court ruled in Parsons's favor on February 17, 1913.  The New York Times reported, "It is alleged that the Superintendent of the Lipton establishment turned the water on without looking at the pipes, and the defendant asserted that the damages were caused by his negligence."

John E. Parsons died on January 16, 1915.  The following year his son, Herbert, sold 149-151 Franklin Street.  Somewhat surprisingly, Lipton did not purchase the building, choosing instead to continue leasing.  In reporting the sale, the Real Estate Record & Guide commented, "The property is located in the wholesale grocery district and will be benefited by the new Seventh avenue subway now in course of construction, which will pass within 100 feet of the building."

The shortage of male workers during World War I may have contributed to the wording of a help-wanted advertisement on July 1, 1918.  It sought: "Girls.  Salary $8 start.  No experience necessary.  Easy work.  Steady Employment.  Thomas J. Lipton, 149 Franklin St."  The salary would equal about $135 per week today.

But the scarcity of men did not preclude the firm's prejudice in hiring a janitor two months later.  The ad on September 9 specifically sought a "porter (white)."

In August 1919 Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. leased a 12-story building in Hoboken, New Jersey and moved its operation from Manhattan.  The following month it transferred its lease on 149-151 Franklin Street to Berth, Levi & Co., manufacturers of sausage casings.

The building was sold in December 1936 but, as Lipton had done, Berth, Levi & Co. chose to continue leasing.  The firm would remain at the address for years.

The third quarter of the century saw a renaissance within the Tribeca district.  In a New York Times article on January 14, 1994, Angela Taylor reported on Maria Susana Salgado's fur-and-yarn garments, which she made and sold in her loft-studio in 149-151 Franklin Street.  Salgado, who had begun as a sculptor in her native Argentina, came to America in 1967 on a Government grant to study art.  Her custom pieces were pricey.  A jacket cost $1,500--more in the neighborhood of $3,750 today.

A renovation completed in 1993 resulted in a store on the first floor, offices on the second, and loft dwellings on the upper floors.  In April 1995 Wyeth, a vintage furniture shop, opened in the store.  On July 5, 2000, the space became home to Interieurs, a furniture store.  Today, Patron of The New, a men's clothing store occupies the space.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The 1901 Fontenay--310 West 80th Street


When real estate developer Michael Tully purchased the two vacant building plots on West 80th Street near Riverside Drive in 1899, the neighborhood was filling with upscale private homes.  He, however, had other plans for the parcel.  Early in December the architectural firm of James E. Ware & Son filed plans for a "brick and stone flat" at 310 West 80th Street.  It would be only marginally less luxurious that its neighbors, The New York Times reporting that the cost of construction would top $4 million in today's money.

Completed in 1901, The Fontenay was a dignified, reined-in version of the Beaux Arts style.  The entrance, recessed within an elaborate, closed portico was centered in the rusticated limestone base.  The upper floors were faced in ruddy red brick and trimmed in limestone.  The architects' rigidly symmetrical  design included two faceted bays that caught river breezes during warmer months.

Each floor held two apartments of eight rooms and bath.  An advertisement in 1900 boasted, "The woodwork, plumbing and general decorative effects of the apartments excel those of any similar house in the city."  It stressed the "virtual isolation" of the kitchen and servant's room and noted there was a separate servants' entrance and "special servants' toilet" in the building.  Rent for the most expensive apartments was $1,500 per year, or about $4,000 a month today.

There were two mirror-image apartments per floor, each with a private hall off the elevator.  New-York Tribune, September 9, 1900 (copyright expired)

Expectedly, the residents were professionals, like chemist and author Ferdinand Gerhard Wiechmann.  Born in Brooklyn in 1858, he was a chemistry instructor at Columbia University and the author of several academic books.  His wife, the former Marie Helen Damrosch, was the daughter of renowned composer and conductor Leopold Damrosch.

Around 1904 Jacob Henry Rothschild took an apartment.  The son of German-Jewish immigrants, his first wife, Eliza Annie Marston, had died in 1898.  He married Eleanor F. Lewis in 1900, but she died three years later.  A founder and partner in the cloak manufacturing firm of Meyer Jonasson & Co., he later became a partner in Bloomenthal Bros., a similar firm.  He was a member of the exclusive Progress Club and the Criterion Club.

Rothschild had four children, two sons and two daughters.  Both boys were young adults, but certainly Dorothy (known as Dottie), who was 11-years old in 1904, and Helen, who was 16, lived with their father.  (Dorothy, however, was seen little by The Fontenay residents until 1908.  Until then she was enrolled in Miss Dana's Academy in Morristown, New Jersey.)

Jacob Henry Rothschild died at the age of 62 on December 27, 1913.  The funeral was held in the parlor of the Rothschild's Fontenay apartment on December 30.  Reportedly Dorothy told friends she was now "an orphan."  Four years later she married Wall Street broker Edwin Pond Parker II.  Dorothy Parker would become legendary in American literature as a poet, writer, critic and satirist.

In 1912 Richard S. Steinhart and his wife hired a new servant, Sophie Beckendorf.   After working for the couple a few weeks (and living with them), Sophie disappeared.  A handgun belonging to Richard and $500 in jewelry and other valuables also went missing.

On November 19, 1912 The Sun reported, "This girl, who has been in the country two years, managed in that time to get the reputation of being one of the sharpest crooks in the country at the dishonest servant girl game."  The article explained, "Her method was simply to apply for a position as a cook, [and] do work which would lead a family to believe that they had at last obtained a real jewel of a servant.  When suspicion was lulled Sophie would take anything she could find and skip out."

The financial loss that the Steinharts suffered paled in comparison to some other victims.  Sophie Beckendorf was deemed "the dupe" of gangster Henry Vogel.  She turned over to him all the loot she stole.  She was arrested, admitted to the robberies, and gave police information as to Vogel's whereabouts.

The handgun Sophie had stolen from the Steinharts had tragic consequences.  On the night of November 18, 1912, police raided the seedy hotel called the Elsmere Wine and Liquor House where Vogel lived.  Vogel pulled out Richard Steinhart's gun and in the shoot-out that followed, two men--a police officer and a waiter--were instantly killed and three others fatally shot.  Vogel and a girl in the apartment with him committed suicide.

Other residents of The Fontenay at the time were jeweler Harry Z. Oppenheimer, and retired stock broker Jennings S. Cox.  Formerly a partner in John Davis & Co., Cox shared his apartment with his adult son, Arthur M. Cox.

Alfred Lewis and his wife, Ruby, lived here during the World War I years.  Ruby was collecting funds for the Red Cross in the lobby of the Ansonia Hotel, on Broadway and 74th Street, on the night of May 21, 1918, when, according to The Sun, "a man who for several years had been a friend of her family appeared and walked toward the elevators of the hotel."  She had earlier seen him on the street and he ignored her, so she now avoided him.

Another worker approached him at the elevator and he donated $5.  But then he caught Ruby watching.  He shouted at her, "What do you mean by looking at me?  You reported me as a spy."  Ruby attempted to walk away, but he followed.

The Sun reported that Ruby turned and said, "If you insult women that way, you must be a Prussian."  The comment was not well received.  The man spat, "You are a dirty liar!"

Witnessing the affray were several members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team.  Hoping to teach the lout a lesson about how to speak to a lady, they loitered around the lobby.  When he reappeared and he headed for the Broadway entrance, they "hurried past him and were waiting when he reached the street."  The players hailed a taxicab for him, and helped his female companion into the cab.  But then, just as the man was about to get in, "one player stepped forward quickly and shot the stranger a solid blow to his chin.  The man dropped into the gutter."

Ruby Lewis declined to identify the man (who had lost at least one tooth in the ambush).  The Sun added, "she became mysterious when she was asked pointedly whether she had reported him as a spy."

Residents Henry Bernstein and his wife suffered a horrifying incident early in 1923.  Among their friends was Dr. Carl V. Woegerer, a former Austrian baron who had renounced his title to become an American citizen.  The three were crossing West End Avenue at 80th Street on February 23, when an automobile swerved toward them while attempting to avoid a collision with another car.  They ran back onto the sidewalk, but the driver of the car, in trying to drive around them, also veered onto the sidewalk.  All three were hit.  They were taken to the A. R. Stern Hospital on West End Avenue where Dr. Woegerer died.

The Great Depression and World War II years were not kind to the once refined neighborhood.  In 1942 The Fontenay was converted to a single-room-occupancy hotel.  Where there had been just two commodious apartments, there were now 16 furnished rooms per floor.  When it was sold 1946, The New York Times described it as "a furnished rooming house," saying it "contains ninety-four rooms."

Among those living here in 1978 was Charles F. Brown, an unemployed plumber.  He made money by making and selling pipe bombs for $130 each.  The 25-year-old was the victim of a Treasury Department sting on June 19 after a three-month investigation.  Brown arrived at a spot in Riverside Drive at 80th Street that day to deliver five bombs to a buyer.  Two men lounging in the grass, two men sitting in a nearby car, and the buyer were all agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. 

The dark days of The Fontenay eventually passed and today there are six apartments per floor in the building.  The facade has been cleaned and its dignity restored.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

The Lost Church of the Holy Trinity - East 42nd and Madison Avenue


from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

On September 8, 1864 The New York Times reported, "The corner-stone of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Madison-avenue, corner of East Forty-second-street, will be laid at 4 o'clock this afternoon.  This is a new enterprise, started by Rev. Stephen H. Tyng, Jr., in the Rutger's Institute Chapel, early last Spring."  The congregation had commissioned architect Jacob Wrey Mould to design the structure.  This church promised to carry on his well-known affinity for colorful and somewhat exotic designs.  "The building is to be of blue and Ohio yellow stone, and brick laid in black mortar."

As the building rose, on May 6, 1865 The New York Times described the design.  "Mr. Mould has not assumed to embody any features of the so-called Gothic, Byzantine, Italian or renaissance styles, but simply such a combination of architectural elements as are best adapted to product a temporary, economical and yet commodious church building."  The writer praised Mould's "charming novelty of effect, and a cheerfulness of interior aspect that effectually combines the church with the home."

Jacob Wrey Mould's quaint, country-like church.  original source unknown

The church building was consecrated in 1865.  According to The New York Times, construction had cost $59,000--just under $1 million today.  Its northern location prompted Andrew C. Zabriskie, in an address to The American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, to say, "...the small brick Church of the Holy Trinity stood as a sentry on the edge of civilization."  But civilization was close on its heels.

As the Murray Hill neighborhood developed, the church was no longer able to accommodate its growing congregation.  On March 2, 1873 Rev. Stephen H. Tyng, Jr. delivered his last sermon in the building.  The New York Herald commented that "The elegant and well-known Church of the Holy Trinity...was filled to overflowing yesterday morning by parishioners and strangers to take part in the farewell services of this house of worship, as around the present structure there is already being laid the foundation of a more commodious and grander building."

Rev. Stephen H. Tyng, Jr. The American Portrait Gallery, 1877 (copyright expired)

The replacement structure had been designed by Leopold Eidlitz.  Construction was completed within the year, the first service being held on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1874.  Its $200,000 cost would equal a staggering $4.7 million in today's money.   The New York Times described it saying, "both externally and internally [it] is one of the finest in the City, and, from a purely architectural standpoint, is an ornament to the flourishing locality in which it is situated."

The Daily Graphic, April 28, 1874 (copyright expired)

Eidlitz's Ruskinian Gothic design featured polychrome brick and stonework, colorful decorative brick diapering, and multi-hued patterns in the slate roof and steeples.  The main tower contained two belfries and rose 190 feet.  The interior was a departure from expected church architecture, its seating arranged in amphitheater style.  The New York Times wrote, "The ground plan of the building might, in the first instance, suggest the idea of a theatre, in respect to the arrangement of the pews, but the general features of church architecture are so adhered to as to dispel this illusion."  

The New York Herald wrote:

The interior of this church is both handsome and comfortable.  The Gothic roof and the gilding and decorations in renaissance have an excellent effect.  There is a happy combination in the amount of color introduced.  As for the upholstering, it appears to have been designed to make the congregation feel a delightful sense of repose.

The large building accommodated the church's several outreach programs.  Holy Trinity operated a dispensary for "the suffering and afflicted poor" and "presided over by able and benevolent physicians," according to The New York Times.  Upstairs were the Sunday school, and a large sewing school.  The church supported the House of the Evangelists upstate, an orphanage, a "Reformatory Farm" near Sing Sing, and five mission chapels.

In the basement of the church indigent locals were fed--what today would be called a church soup kitchen.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1887 Rev. Edward Walpole Warren took over the pulpit from Rev. Stephen Tyng.  But for a while it appeared the congregation would have to find another replacement.   Warren was "imported from London by the vestrymen of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Fall of 1887," as worded by The Evening World.  He arrived in New York about the same time that John S. Kennedy "engaged a skilled gardener in Scotland to come to America and take charge of his country estate," according to that newspaper.

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Authorities, citing the Contract Labor Law which banned imported labor, refused the Scottish gardener entry into the country.  In response, Kennedy, "to show the folly of the law," demanded that Rev. Warren be deported as well.  The case ended up in the courts, which held that Warren was, indeed, "an imported laborer under contract," however deemed him a "teacher," an excepted class under the law.

Rev. Warren brought the ire of New Yorkers in general upon himself five years later.  When asked by a reporter why he had not yet sought citizenship, he replied:

I have refrained from taking out papers as a citizen of New York because the city is so wicked and corrupt that I would not wish to be identified with it, even as a voter.  Until it has rid itself of an administration that is vile from top to bottom I will remain an alien.  The entire municipal machine, I believe, from Mayor Grant down, is absolutely corrupt.

On April 10, 1892 a reporter from The Evening World went to services at the "ultra-fashionable" church, in order to speak to Warren who had been elusive since his remarks.  He proved no easier to pin down in person.  

"Positively, no! I cannot be interviewed!  You must excuse me; I am too busy," he told the reporter.  He then "dropped into a pew and into a chat with one of his female parishioners, who had remained after the service."  The writer noted, "Dr. Warren, who has drawn a handsome salary and lived quite elegantly in this modern Sodom for nearly five years, only waved his small fat hand in a 'do go away' gesture, and the reporter withdrew."

The uncomfortable meeting had taken place in a newly renovated sanctuary.  Eidlitz's amphitheater configuration was completely remodeled.   The New York Times, on February 15, 1892, explained, "The old interior reminded one of a big concert hall.  It was elliptical in shape, and the acoustic properties were abominable."  The new motif was Gothic, according to the article, "and the result is a dignified and ecclesiastical house of worship."  The newspaper noted, "The cost has been very heavy."

Among the most notable additions was a memorial reredos donated by Mrs. Clara Bacon.  The New York Times said, "It is the largest mosaic and one of the most artistic ever placed in the United States."  The central panel, Our Blessed Lord Enthroned, was 14-feet high.  The vast work was executed by Charles R. Lamb, of J. & R. Lamb.

The remodeled, Gothic-style interior.  Clara Bacon's short-lived reredos is clearly visible.  original source unknown

The "very heavy" cost of the remodeling added to the already deep debt the congregation suffered.  It was the financial straw that broke the back of Holy Trinity.   Only two years later the Journal of the One Hundred and Eleventh Convention of the Diocese of New York explained, "The heavy debt upon the church had for nine years crippled all possibilities of doing a satisfactory work for so important a church (a debt which had rested on the church ever since its incorporation), and had made families afraid of joining membership with a church so financially embarrassed; and the noisy corner of Forty-second Street and Madison Avenue...had long been a cause of annoyance to the congregation."

Holy Trinity merged with St. James's Protestant Episcopal Church on 71st Street and Madison Avenue.  On November 1, 1895 The Sun reported that the combined parishes had sold former Holy Trinity structure for $900,000 (about $28.6 million today), "and with the proceeds pay off the indebtedness of both churches and erect a new church and parish house."

In its September 1895 issue, Metaphysical Magazine lamented, "...this extinction of churches reaches its climax in the sale of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Forty-second Street...And now this magnificent structure has been sold to a railway corporation."  The following year, in July 1896, The Church reported, "at this writing the very walls of the old...Church of the Holy Trinity, at East Forty-second Street and Madison Avenue, are in process of demolition...A business structure of mammoth proportions will be erected on the site where the conspicuously decorated edifice of Holy Trinity has long stood."

Today the site is occupied by the 93-story One Vanderbilt skyscraper.

photo by Sean Shang

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